Monday, 25 August 2008

Toads, Dressing Rooms and Acne.

What can I say? It's the longest gap between posts I've left it since I started this blog. The fancy dress party I wrote about last time feels like it happened in the nineties. Maybe it did. Anyway, for those of you who read this - and last time I looked there were people in St Laurant Du Var and Vincente Lopez, as well as folk in Adelaide, Bangkok and Helsinki - there was even one visitor from Islamabad last month (hopefully wearing a skinny tie and listening to The Knack) - yes, for those of you that read this, I humbly apologise. It's not like I've been on holiday either - quite the opposite in fact, I've been working. The toad is squatting.

Not that managing a band isn't work, or indeed writing articles (incidentally, here's one I wrote last week about band names) but crucially none of this brings in that much cash at the moment. Actually, let's be honest, none of is bringing in any cash right now. OK, so occasionally, I get paid for something - but it does feel like the work you get paid for when you are freelance, particularly a freelance writer, isn't the actual work but the work you put in trying to get paid. So with savings running at an all time low, I suggested to some of my mover and shaker friends that whilst I may superficially appear to be a flourishing and rather important band manager, my wife is beginning to look at me rather sternly; could they put their considerable feelers out and if they hear of any freelance work popping up, get on the phone to me immediately? I sent this out as a lighthearted, amusingly-written email and by the end of the day my inbox was full to the brim with job offers.

If only that were true. No, apart from a couple of well-meaning responses of the 'I'll give you a shout if anything does come up...' nature, it was the deafening sound of Gmail Tumbleweed, which greeted me. Oh well, I thought, at least I tried. I returned to the drawing board, wondering if in fact, I did have as many actual friends out there as I thought. Maybe everyone was on holiday, maybe their silence was meant to convey a vociferous 'I hear ya!' Whatever the reason, their silence spoke pamphlets.

Then, about a week later, I got a call from a friend - "would you like to help out the online team of XXXXXXX, while one of them is away on jury service?" I jumped at it. I haven't done any online editorial since my days at AOL Music and despite the work at first glance being of the desk-bound screen-staring variety, I must confess to really rather enjoying it. I'm not going to tell you where it is, suffice to say that there are worse music websites out there and due to the unique way it's funded, everyone seems to be there for the right reasons - IE they love music and want to make great content - rather than the situation at AOL Music where any decent editorial ideas would be swept away in a sea of boring demands from sponsors. Actually, the last I heard, since being bought by Carphone Warehouse a couple of years ago, the remaining editorial staff at AOL were given the final ignominious task of flying to Mumbai to teach the call centre staff there how to do editorial. Talk about digging your own grave.

But don't think that I've thrown in the management towel to purse the Internet dream - oh no, my friends, I am still chipping away at the coal face of rock and pop and things are very gradually beginning to hot up. The Scottish band - let's for the sake of it call them Isosceles, shall we? - are coming out of the woodwork. They've been slaving away over a hot rehearsal room stove to come up with the next single and there's a 20 date tour being prepared for the autumn. I went up to see them play at The Edge Festival (the music part of the Edinburgh Festival) last weekend and it's sinking in that they are actually beginning to command a bit of an audience. In the Caberet Voltaire, bang in the middle of the city, surrounded by clowns, jugglers and motionless, silver-painted men, the band unloaded their gear and I noticed for the first time that we had some A4 love. Getting the A4 is something I've always subconsciously known is a sign you are going somewhere - it's when the promoter prints a number of sheets with your band name on it to make the venue seem like its yours for the night - a couple with 'Isosceles - Dressing Room Upstairs' on them, and a handful with stage times and Isosceles at the top. Small and insignificant this may sound but it's a deeply satisfying thing after always being first support and not getting your name on the sheet or getting it on but woefully misspelled. Don't get me started on the various spellings of Isosceles, by the way, suffice to say it's easy to remember once you've heard their chant-along song of the same name

It was good to see the fellas again, it had been a while and there was much catching up to do. We kicked back in the dressing room - a room, it must be said, that looked like it had been designed by someone with the wrong brief. Normally dressing rooms are breeze-blocked, graffiti-heavy, damp and shabby - the furniture is the worst sort of student landlord mouse-nibbled sofa carcasses and the toilets barely a latrine above an open sewer. The only respite is the rider - a case of beer and softs or as one promoter on the forthcoming tour describes it: 'ice cool imported beer' (just the wrongness of the expression 'ice cool' sets off alarm bells). The people who designed the dressing room at the Caberet Voltaire had obviously believed they were designing a Green Room for a national TV show - instead of breeze block there is a very tasteful feature wall with flock-effect wallpaper, instead of a burned-out three piece suite from 1983 there are leather sofas and wooden chairs which look as if they're from Heels. There is also a serious Air con unit which, on a day like today, brings a tear of joy to the eye. There is tea, coffee and of course there are beers as well as softs - plus chocolate too. I get to the dressing room before the band arrive and do the most important thing a manager can do - put the choc in the fridge. Job done, I sit back and wait for my 20%.

As with most of the band's shows, I'm almost disappointed that there is not more A&R advice I can give them - they are so near to being brilliant it's criminal. One time on the last tour I commented to Jack about communicating with the audience more and by the next time I saw them he was engaging everyone. This time they play two brand new songs and one of them - Andy, You're Just Like Clockwork feels like it's potentially the next single.

After the show we retire to finish the rider (chocolate included) and after a quick vegetarian haggis (I kid you not) we're in a bar and downing pints of Tenants. It occurs to me, as I hear myself blathering on to some girl in German that I have work the next day, not work as in talking to the agent about the tour, trying to get through to the PR guy or worrying about how much money we have for diesel, no - I have to be somewhere at a certain time, to do a specific thing to a specific deadline - how odd does that feel? Suddenly there can be no impromptu meetings in the middle of the day, no quick forays to Amazon or Ebay - it's all suddenly very grown up and serious and I'm not sure I like it. I throw the thought from my mind and down another pint. We're celebrating another thing too, we've been offered what is known as a sync - that is, someone wants to use one of the band's songs in an advert (it could be a film or TV soundtrack but often it's the advertising agencies who have the bigger budgets). I'm going to write more about syncs in another blog because we've got offers for a number of our bands right now and I think there are things to said about the idea of letting your songs be used to advertise, say for example - the Danish equivalent of the AA.

In Isosceles' case, we have been approached by a Scottish agency who've made, not surprisingly, ads for Iron Bru and Tenants. They also made the one with the bottles of Bulmers cider swimming through the sea like dolphins. Everything sounded amazing - they want to use the band's first single Get Your Hands Off, which is an under-exposed classic, the director is the same guy who did the dolphins ad, the agency is hip and Scottish, the ad will run for a year and go to air around the release of our new single. What, as we managers say, could possibly go wrong? The only issue is the product - what is it that Isosceles' song is going to endorse - is it a car? some jeans? a hair product? Nope. It's Oxy. You know, the spot cream. When I had spots (about a million years ago) it was called Oxy 10, I think - now they've streamlined it for the noughties. Initially, we wobbled but then we thought - hey, what's the worst that can happen? We'll have a song that people associate with an ad. Then we thought... well, I thought - money! I could do with some of that, bet those spot people are loaded. Er, no. If anyone tells you that the future for artists is not about record sales but getting your songs placed in adverts, they are probably a music journalist and not in the business. There is not much money for a new band but there is, as we decided, that magical thing: Exposure. And that for us, is what hit the, er spot.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, the last I heard, since being bought by Carphone Warehouse a couple of years ago, the remaining editorial staff at AOL were given the final ignominious task of flying to Mumbai to teach the call centre staff there how to do editorial. Talk about digging your own grave.

    AOL getting people in Mumbai to write editorial for the UK audience? As if. I don't know where you get your facts from, Mr. Wardle. It was Bangalore.